about sarah oliver handbags
With 20 seniors on my staff, I owe much of my company's success to the hard work of these dedicated knitters, the Purlettes +1, who range in age from 78 to 96. I first reached out to the senior community about seven years ago as my business, born out of my passion for the art of knitting and a desire to create my own holiday gifts, began to grow beyond my ability to keep up with demand.
We need to reinvent our assumptions of old age
"Society needs to break stereotypes and develop new models of aging for the 21st century. Everyone benefits from communities, workplaces and societies that encourage active and visible participation of older people."
-World Health Organization
Watch the video below to find out what the Purlettes +1 have to say about working at sarah oliver handbags:
I love what I am doing - designing and creating a stylish collection of unique handbags and working with talented seniors. Both are a passion of mine and together, we create a product I am passionate about - a line of handbags that are hand knit and handmade in Mill Valley, California.
My company has been selling principally through retail locations nationwide. Our biggest retailer is Gump's in San Francisco, and we just opened our first two international accounts. Part of our mission is to foster strong relationships with the stores that carry our bags.
We have a three-prong selling strategy for our current line which includes exhibiting at the New York International Gift Show to build our wholesale side of the business. We are thrilled to have almost 100 stores carrying our bags nationwide. Equally important is our participation in boutique events around the country. We are able to sell our line as well as our samples to increase our national exposure and branding. Finally, we sell through our online store on our website: www.saraholiverhandbags.com
While my company has enjoyed growth and success selling primarily to gift retailers we need to reach out to new markets in order to keep growing the business and to keep hiring more seniors to increase production. Two new markets that we've identified for growth are bridal and fashion accessories. Our focus for this Kickstarter project is on the introduction of the sarah oliver bridal collection. Should we exceed funding goals, we will use the additional money towards supporting our presence in the fashion accessories market.
In spring 2013, I am planning to launch a collection of bridal handbags. The line will consist of eight bags built around the cornerstone of the collection - a shimmering off-white clutch made from a luxurious hand dyed mohair and silk yarn with glass beads and sequins. Daphne (91 years old), a Purlette, was instrumental in helping me design and knit the prototype. I am working on an optional wrist strap for the collection that can be worn or tucked in to the bag as the wearer chooses.
I brought samples of the bridal bags with me to the NY gift show in August and shared them with a few existing retail accounts. The response to the line was overwhelmingly positive and in fact, I have presold a few to several of our accounts in advance of our launch.
In addition, I had Daphne knit, on special request, a few bridal bags as a favor to one of our stores who had a customer planning her wedding. I was delighted to receive a note and to find out how much the bride loved her bag!
should I achieve my kickstarter funding I will:
- hire more senior knitters!
- order supplies in bulk to take advantage of price breaks
- participate as an exhibitor at the NY bridal show spring 2013
- design and construct a booth for the show
- hire a photographer and models for a photo shoot
- hire a graphic designer for marketing materials and website
- print and produce a sales/marketing kit
- establish an initial inventory of the bridal collection bags
- finish the wristlet and shoulder strap designs
I am extremely excited to launch this new collection of bridal bags!
why do a kickstarter launch now when I already have a successful handbag company?
Much of my success so far is due to the support I get from friends, family and even kind strangers who believe in me and the company. I have received guidance on how to grow my business from countless entrepreneurs, business leaders, lawyers and financial experts (just to name a few). My photographer, Sean Dagen, and videographer, Khyber Jones, work on shoestring budgets. I do all my own styling (most recently with the help of my daughter and her friend). I plan our shoots at friend's homes and the models I use in the photo shoots are also friends who help out at no cost or in exchange for a handbag. Occasionally, good friends come in and help in the office for free, doing whatever needs to get done in order to get orders out. Everybody who works at SOH pitches in in all areas of the company.
I have grown my company slowly and deliberately over the last 7 years, reinvesting all that I have made in growing the existing business. In order to continue to grow my business, I need to design and launch new lines. Currently, I have been focused on selling to the gift industry, I want to expand into other markets starting with bridal and eventually moving to the accessories markets. I believe that our bridal line has enormous potential for success. With my current revenue stream I do not have the ability to create an inventory or to take advantage of economies of scale when buying supplies. Without being able to buy in bulk, my wedding bags will be cost prohibitive. Kickstarter funding will allow me to create an inventory of bags, launch the bridal line with marketing support and be an exhibitor at the NY bridal show.
My hope is to build the brand and expand the business model. My passion lies with designing, creating, manufacturing locally (or within the USA) and working with seniors. I would like to think that if I am successful at growing my business by employing and engaging seniors, then businesses worldwide will also see the benefits of hiring seniors.
I owe an incredible amount of thanks to all those that have supported me over the years and, most recently, for helping me to create my Kickstarter project. I would not have been able to do any of this without the help of professionals and friends who were willing to trade their services/assistance for a handbag or just help out because they believed in me and my vision for the company.
I am grateful to Khyber Jones for creating our kickstarter video on the tightest of budgets. Khyber is an absolutely brilliant filmmaker who graduated from film school just over a year ago.
Thanks to Jenny, Andrea, Beth, Ana and Jeanette, my team at sarah oliver handbags, for always believing in the company, pitching in and for your continued passion to grow our company!
Thanks to Dirk and Sheri Ivory for opening their home for the making of the Kickstarter video and Sheri for modeling for us in her beautiful wedding dress.
Thanks to Wayne and Marcus, Owners of Pennyweight, in St. Helena CA for sharing their enthusiasm about carrying sarah oliver handbags at their store.
Thanks to Purlettes + 1 and especially Daphne for agreeing to an interview in front of a camera.
Finally, thanks to Kickstarter for creating a platform for small businesses, like mine, to tell our story and hopefully receive the financial backing we need to grow our company!
Risks and challenges
The major challenge I face today is the same one I will continue to face while executing the kickstarter project. I chose to employ seniors to produce my handbags. Working with seniors has many benefits! However, the major challenge I face is maintaining a consistently high quality product. Store buyers want to receive merchandise that is consistent with what they ordered. My knitters are not machines; they make mistakes, they may misunderstand a new pattern or may all of a sudden have health issues that impact their quality of work and their ability to produce. That is the reality of life and aging and of creating a handmade product. I am committed to building a company that makes a difference and so I embrace and understand the challenges involved in working with seniors. It takes creativity and thoughtful communication to create a win/win for everybody. With the help of my marketing team, we have made it a priority to constantly educate our buyers so they are aware of the unique set of challenges we face in providing our handmade product. I continue to gently coach the knitters and at times they need to redo their work. The good news is that some of the human mistakes become "happy accidents" that become inspiration for future designs or a one-of-a-kind prized possession for the lucky owner.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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